Saturday 29 August 2015

Pub Crawl

I did try to find something else to do in Snaith, honestly.  I wandered the streets.  I stroked a cat on a wall.  I sat on a bench presented by the Snaith Young Wives in November 1974.  I followed this sign:

but I never found what it was pointing to.  Or maybe I did, and it just wasn't what I expected.

I lasted until about twelve-thirty, and then I decided, no more.  Snaith has five pubs and it would be rude of me to not check them out.  It would be an insult to its fine history of being a centre of drunkenness.  It was my duty.

Pub #1: The Brewer's Arms, Pontefract Road

At first, the Brewer's Arms looked like a traditional pub.  A little threadbare - the furnishings were a bit old-fashioned, the type that twenty years ago would have cigarette burns on them - and there was an all-pervading scent of deep fat frying.  The Brewer's Arms had an extensive menu, and was somewhere between "pub grub" and "gastropub"; selling the basics, but trying hard to make them better.  Not totally successfully - a woman trying to order fish and chips is informed that they've run out of fish, so she has to settle for a ham sandwich - but they're doing their best.

It was only after I'd sat down with my pint of Blonde Bombshell (£3) that I realised the owners were insane.

I was sat in a back room that seemed to be based around Buffalo Bill's home in The Silence of the Lambs.  On the ceiling were fishing rods and nets - fair enough.  They're close to a river.  But that charming mural about "Wild Field Sports of the Orient"?  Well, who doesn't want to stare at a picture of elephants crushing a tiger underfoot while they drink their pint?

It's not the only example of elephantine psychopathy - in another panel, they were mauling a hippo, while a deer was riddled with spears and about to get torn apart by dogs on the bottom row.  There were other pictures around the walls of hunting violence.  Redcoats riding with their hounds amongst terrified looking foxes.  A Victorian drinking scene, seemingly benign, apart from the man on the right gutting a fish in the middle of the bar.  This monstrosity:

That was just the paintings.  I haven't even started on the taxidermy.  A fox head mounted on a plinth.  Owls leaping out of baskets.  And two niches devoted to stuffed wildlife, arranged in a tasteful tableau.

I particularly like the owl in that case, looking straight at the viewer like Miranda Hart.  "Can you believe this squirrel and his shit?"  In the other nook there was a pouncing stoat, its fangs bared, and I was forced to wonder where the landlord escaped from.  The last time a committed taxidermist was allowed to run a hotel it was Norman Bates, and we all know how well that turned out.  Not even a blackboard advertising that the theme for New Years' Eve would be Casino Royale could convince me the owners weren't psychopaths.  (Plus, these Casino Royale themed parties are usually a con: I went to one, and after I cut a hole in seat of the host's dining chair, stripped naked and asked someone to hit me in the balls with a carpet beater I was asked to leave.  I WAS JUST COMMITTING TO THE THEME).

Shame, because the Blonde Bombshell beer was really nice.  I managed only two pints before the dead staring eyes creeped me out too much and I left.

Pub #2: The Bell & Crown, Market Place

I'd actually intended to go into the Downe Arms, across the road, but as I stepped into the porch I saw a stepladder and a load of paint and I assumed it was being refurbished.  As I turned away, though, I spotted people sat in the window, but I'd already committed to not going in by then so I headed into the Bell & Crown.  The barmaid looked vaguely surprised to see me, so I took my pint of John Smiths (£2.70) and found a quiet corner to hide in.

It seemed to be vaguely sporting-themed.  Amusements were in every corner.  A dart board, a pool table, a projector ready to show the Saturday football.  The men at the bar were talking about those contentious traffic lights that the funeral director had got so steamed up about; clearly this was a real hot-button issue in Snaith.  "I shall contact Barack Obama," said one, and his mate replied, "he'll do fuck all."  Of course he won't, I thought, until I realised they were talking about the local MP.

The Bell & Crown didn't make any pretensions at being anything other than a pub.  There weren't any menus on the tables.  The closest they got was a blackboard advertising stuffed crust pizzas for a fiver - somehow I doubted they had a chef out back tossing dough.  A woman with skin the colour of well-worn brogues came in to order two vodka and tonics - "slimline, 'cos I'm watching my figure."  She was followed by a tiny man who was probably born during the Korean War; the regulars at the bar let out a cry, "Mind your backs!  Hold your wallets!  We was wondering why you was late - was it the blonde or the brunette?"

He blushed.  "I couldn't say."

Pub #3: The Plough, Shearburn Terrace

Dammit!  The third of Snaith's pubs was closed.  A sign on the front invited potential landlords to call and make their dreams come true.  I followed the road round, a little annoyed, until I happened upon the back entrance to:

Pub #4: The Downe Arms, Market Place

The people I'd seen in the window earlier had gone, leaving me as the only patron in the whole pub.  By now I was three pints down and starting my fourth, so I thought it was about time I ordered some food. It was only afterwards that I thought a prawn mayonnaise sandwich may have been a bad choice.  It wasn't that the pub was dirty; it's just that seafood requires a little bit more effort in its care and preparation, and I wasn't sure if they had the commitment.

Are "fun pubs" still a thing?  They were everywhere in the Eighties and early Nineties.  Places that had a DJ - one who looked up to Pat Sharp as a career goal - and a big wooden dance floor.  I seem to remember Alec Gilroy wanting to turn the Rovers into one.  They had sort-of classy pictures on the walls, and offered cocktails alongside the pints and the ciders.

I'm asking because the Downe Arms seemed like it was trying its best to bring the fun pub back.  Everything about it screamed "seventeen year olds hoping they don't get asked for ID while ordering a Cheeky Vimto".  A poster for "The Habit - back by popular demand!" The Jack Vettriano pictures on the walls, the odd bit of exposed brick, the sign in the loo saying "alcohol doesn't cause hangovers...waking up does!", which is basically positing that the best way to avoid a hangover is to die in the night.  It was all very 1980s, an impression not helped by the jukebox randomly pumping out one of Samantha Fox's lesser hits called Do Ya Do Ya (Wanna Please Me).  It was no Touch Me (I Want Your Body).

My prawn baguette arrived as the decorators went back to work.  There were two of them, a man in dungarees who consulted at length with the landlady about the job - it was taking longer than she expected, and as someone who still has scaffolding up outside his house, I can sympathise - plus a tiny woman with enormous glasses who looked like Jeanette Krankie doing a "character".  She clambered all over the bay window, sanding down the wood, while I pushed my way through the worst prawn baguette I have ever eaten.  Somewhere along the line, they'd made a mistake with the mayonnaise recipe, and put way too much vinegar in it.  That was all I could taste, the thick sting of acetic acid burning through every mouthful.  Maybe they'd left the Hellmans in the sun for too long.  It was a slog to get through, but because I was the only customer and the landlady was in sight, I felt obligated to eat it.  Social anxiety is a terrible affliction.

Pub #5: The Black Lion, Selby Road

The first thing to hit me as I entered the Black Lion was the smell.  It was the scent of a teenage boy's bedroom, tied up in a sweaty jock strap and left behind a radiator for six weeks.  It was the smell of perspiration and it was overwhelming.  I guessed it might be coming from the pair of trainers that sat, unexplained, on the floor of the bar.

Alternatively, it could just have been the regular clientele.  While the Bell & Crown had aimed for the sporty viewers, I felt like the Black Lion actually got the sporty participants.  The barman was a bear of a man, blonde and bulky, and I could see this being the watering hole for the local teams.  Saturday morning soccer, Sunday morning rugby; they'd finish up on the pitch and roll into the Black Lion still covered in mud (no showers at these tiny sports grounds), and they'd celebrate or commiserate.

I'm not sure where Charlie Chaplin fits into this though.  The Little Tramp was everywhere; photographs, posters, lamps where he gazed up at the bulb with big sad eyes.  I don't like Charlie Chaplin.  Silent comedy is enough of a slog as it is without chucking a load of big-eyed sentimentality into it.  I feel like I should watch The Great Dictator sometime, but just the publicity stills of him "larking around" with a giant globe make me sigh.  Give me Harold Lloyd dangling off a clock any time.

The TV had been playing the racing channel, and no-one had really been interested.  When the barman changed the channel to BBC Two, halfway through a repeat of 'Allo, Allo!, the bar perked up.  Suddenly there was laughter, real, raucous laughter.  It may not be sophisticated or classy, but 'Allo, Allo! is undeniably funny.  The crowd sniggered their way through wartime based filth, parroting back Officer Crabtree's smutty mispronunciations, and when it finished a man sucking on an e-cig proclaimed loudly, "best programme ever made!"

The door burst open, and a tiny, adorable toddler rushed in, followed by his granddad.  All those cynical boozehounds immediately perked up, calling out "Alfie!" like it was an episode of Cheers.  The barman swept the little boy into his arms and talked tenderly to him, and a set of ovaries I didn't even know I had began melting.  A giant rugby hunk playing with a small child?  Goodness yes.

Alfie spent the next half an hour running up and down the pub, often accompanied by one or two of the customers.  I thought how nice it must be to be a kid growing up in a pub.  All these regulars who coo and pet you, who treat you as the centre of the universe every time you pass through, who slip you a packet of cheese and onion as a treat.  There would be horrible downsides - the hours, the fights, the vomit - but you'd never feel lonely.  You could wander down to the pub and just sit on the end of the bar with a Coke and talk to grown ups.  Such a confidence builder.

I drank my pint of John Smiths (£2.95) and decided the Black Lion was my favourite of Snaith's pubs.  It was earthier than the Downe Arms, busier than the Bell & Crown, less insane than the Brewer's Arms.  They just need a decent extraction system to get rid of the stench.

Not a pub: Snaith Railway Station, Selby Road

A bit frazzled round the edges, I finally rolled up to Snaith station for the train home.  I had half an hour until it arrived but I was so afraid of missing it I couldn't leave it any longer.  One train to Goole a day, remember.

There was nothing to it, of course.  A single platform with a shelter.  A couple of bike racks, that unsurprisingly held no bikes, and a remarkably busy car park.  It should have been filled with commuters, but instead was being used by visitors to Snaith.

I settled down in the shelter - please note my feet are not actually on the seat there - and sipped a bottle of water.  It had been a long, long day, and I'd only collected three stations.  All that time and expense and I'd barely touched the map.  Sometimes station collecting is a whirl of names and trains.  Sometimes it makes you do a pub crawl.  I'm not sure why more people don't do it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now that is proper tarting!